However, with the dawn of computers and other technological tools, has come the birth of a science able to explore the world’s dynamic interwoven nature, and these new understandings dash with many of the older held truths. This expansion is producing a new understanding of how the natural world works. In place of the cold, uncaring, inert world described by Newtonian physics and “dockwork” thinkers over the last 300 plus years, this expanded sdence is now showing us that the physical universe, from the smallest to the most cosmic levels, is intertwined and dynamically co- evolving towards patterns of self-organization.
All living systems grow and change. They have the ability to self-organize – continually creating new structures and processes that effectively respond to current needs. We live in a world that naturally and spontaneously seeks to create order.
These new scientific understandings give us the opportunity to rethink our human and economic organizations, just as the Newtonian mechanistic revolution inspired 18th century philosophers and political thinkers such as Locke, Hume, Jefferson, Franklin, and Adam Smith to rethink their social organizations. Their new understandings, spawned by the rational science of their day, led to democracy, the Universal Rights of Man, the American Bill of Rights, religious freedom and many other values we now hold dear. We are now hovering near a similar point of transformation.
We live in an exciting time with the opportunity to shape the future in ways as powerful as our greatest forefathers. Unfortunately, this period of “big change” could also have a dark side. Least we forget, the French Revolution and Napoleon were spawned by the same intellectual forces that gave us the Bill of Rights. It could go either way. “We are on the knife’s edge between institutional failure and anarchyÑExisting institutions are becoming increasingly irrelevant for the solutions to any of our problems. On the other side of the knife’s edge is the regeneration of individuality, liberty, community, and ethics such as the world has never known.”
In particular, values which for 200 years were seen as being totally outside the concern of science are now emerging as a central issue. In the words of the Neurologist RW Sperry “human values, viewed in objective scientific perspectives, stand out as the most strategically powerful causal control force now shaping world events. More than any other causal system with which science now concerns itself, it is variables in human value systems that will determine the future.”
We are starting to look at ourselves and our world from a very different perspective. What comes out strikingly from the comments of the II and 17 year olds from the 1996 Voices is the need for a society that can satisfy its needs without destroying the prospects for future generations – a sustainable democratic society.
“The future is not something that will simply roll over us. It is something we can shape and create and direct, and that is where the learning comes in both individually and collectively. THat is the fundamental shift in our thinkin.”
Betty Sue Flowers 1996
There is something about these new understandings of the Universe that we feel we already know. We are finding ourselves rediscovering philosophies that are as old as recorded history, and which are cherished in various forms, throughout the world. New insights are merging with older truths to form new frameworks around which new social structures can be built. Natural systems, including human learning, now seem to be far more dynamic, vibrant, and interconnected, and far more responsive to local and unique phenomena – and therefore less predictable in their outcomes – than we had earlier understood. This appreciation of diversity is all part of the- transformation.” The Newtonian predictable, mechanical universe replaced the earlier notion of an organic, living, spiritual world that had existed for millennia. As far as ordinary people’s understanding was concerned, that organic world was replaced with a reductionist, atomistic world which immediately seemed so rational and so manageable, that it became all pervasive. It enabled us to see detail with incredible clarity. In our own times it got man to the moon, developed the micro-chip and the technology to see inside the brain. It also produced the cynical 60-year old in the 1996 Voices, and tens of millions of others like him, whose “apres moi ie deluge” mentality wreaks havoc on a world deeply dependent on mutual collaboration for survival and common prosperity.
Where the old science focused on breaking the world apart, the new science is all about dynamic relationships. The insights come from four different branches of science. In mathematics, models based on self-referring systems reveal incredible complexity arising from simple algorithms. In physics, the study of energy flows in open-systems reveals that emergent order – the compliment to the Principle of Entropy – is a central feature of cosmic and terrestrial evolution. In biology, many are coming to believe that co- evolution and collaboration are as important as, and inseparable from, competition and the survival of the fittest. Studies show that evolution is not simply random, but is driven by natural principles of self-organization heading towards increasing complexity; that genetics don’t determine everything, and that the role of mind (both individual and group) is critical. In brain-research, scientists are also discovering that we are not simply selfish grasping creatures of Darwinian theory but, rather, we have two deeply embedded cultures, one mutualist and one hierarchical and defensive. ”
We have to rediscover the basic interconnectivity upon which all living systems dependÑAnd “go with it” at all levels of existence, both organizationally and individually. The young child, seeking “to make sense” of its own immediate experience, is dealt a shattering blow to its sense of order and purpose when a parent it loves and admires is made redundant because the corporation needs to downsize to improve its short-term profitability. Too much of that, and the web of life is shattered, and life becomes a crap game where the lasting lesson is take all you can, and put nothing back.
Some people will see this as an inevitable consequence of the market economy; others will simply deplore it; others will see that assumptions about the economy are but part of a still wider set of assumptions that we have come to accept as part of the natural order. The inevitable fact, however, is that such behavior has direct consequences on young people that now has to be confronted.
It is impossible to bring up children to be intelligent in a world that is unintelligible to them.
“Educations stands in danger of seeing people only as tools for economic progress, unless it is accompanied by a vision of individuals as creative, responsible, spiritual, and society as the matrix within which genuine fulfilment is the goal for all.”
The Bishop of Ripon 1994
This challenges the assumption that has guided formal schooling for a century and more in its search to identify those relatively few people with “natural (academic) intelligence” worthy of evermore extended educational opportunities. This system largely ignored the less obvious and more diverse skills to be found widely in the majority of the population, and sought to limit these to those basic functional skills needed in a large scale manufacturing economy. Within such aneconomy learning and schooling were seen to be synonymous: the ability to think for yourself was not only ignored, but actually seen as a distraction. This is in stark contrast to the needs of a “knowledge society” in which it is essential that everyone’s skills, however diverse, are developed in ways that create personal confidence in the individual’s ability to be sufficiently flexible, and have all their wits about them, so as to seek out and exploit change. Such people need to know how to learn new skills, develop new attitudes without waiting to be told – in a word, they have to be “enterprising.”